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Fix the Army, Now!

Doug Macgregor is alternately revered, respected and ridiculed by his Army colleagues and senior Pentagon officials. Ever since then-Army Chief Dennis Reimer made his book, "Breaking the Phalanx," required reading for the general officers corps, his ideas have stirred passions in the largest US military service. Defense Secretary Robert Gates' West Point speech elicited strong reactions from Macgregor. In the following op-ed he calls on the next defense secretary to remake the Army in truth, and not just to give the idea lip service.

He calls his piece: Generals: The Truth will set you free!

Nowhere in the world does stating the obvious provoke more shock and alarm than inside the beltway in Washington, DC. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s recent speech at West Point is a case in point.

In what was an unambiguous reference to the commitment of large Army and Marine ground forces to Iraq and Afghanistan, Gates said, “Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should “have his head examined.” Do you think so?

Events in Tunisia, Egypt, and other parts of the Islamic World demonstrate that while many of the societies in the Middle East and North Africa are broken and their people are angry about it, these problems have nothing to do with the United States. These societies struggle with dysfunctional cultures and severe socio-economic problems that will not be solved through American military occupation and counterinsurgency operations aimed at exporting liberal democracy at gunpoint. The million dollars a year it costs to keep one American soldier or Marine stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan makes no sense when, for a fraction of the cost, the U.S. Government could easily protect America’s borders from the wave of criminality, terrorism and illegal immigration pouring in from Mexico and Latin America.

Gates did not stop there. He went on to say “the need for heavy armor and firepower to survive, close with, and destroy the enemy will always be there, as veterans of Sadr City and Fallujah can no doubt attest.” However, Gates suggested the future would not involve the employment of Army divisions warning the Army’s generals they “must confront the reality that the most plausible, high-end scenarios for the U.S. military are primarily naval and air engagements.”

In 1997 I published a book, "Breaking the Phalanx: A New Design for Land Power in the 21st Century." In it, I advocated the dissolution of the Army’s World War II industrial Age warfighting structure arguing instead for a new paradigm with a flatter command structure designed to tightly integrate Army ground forces with air and naval power. The design I set forth replaced conventional Army brigades and divisions with a new formation, the Combat Group; a permanently organized, all arms formation commanded by a brigadier general with the staff and the critical links to plan and execute decisive operations under a Joint Headquarters that replaced the WW II Corps and Army headquarters. I also implored the generals to harmonize readiness training and deployment schedules with the Navy, Air Force and Marines on the Navy’s rotational readiness model to ease the burden on the individual soldier and to reduce the costs.

In 2003, I extended this analysis in "Transformation under Fire: Revolutionizing the Way America Fights," arguing for the employment of the Combat Groups outlined in Breaking the Phalanx under a joint integrative command structure that crossed service lines to drive critical warfighting capabilities to lower levels. Instead of organizing around its anachronistic branches, I urged the Army generals to reorganize the ground force around the functions of maneuver, strike, ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and sustainment (logistics) to facilitate its integration with the capabilities in the air and naval services.

Gates, like his predecessors in the office of the Secretary of Defense, was well aware of these works, works widely supported inside the armed forces. But neither Cohen, Rumsfeld nor Gates did anything. Why?

The Army’s active and retired four stars were certainly not interested in changing the Army. The politicians who were nominally in charge of overseeing the military were much more concerned about getting their share of the defense budget than in changing the way we organize to fight.

Sober analyses like the ones in my books were pushed aside in favor of purchasing new and ever more expensive silver bullet equipment like the Army’s Crusader Artillery System or the Future Combat System (FCS) – systems designed to support vacuous programs like the Army After Next and the Objective Force – preferably for delivery in the indefinite future and heavily classified so their effectiveness could not be judged. Meanwhile, the number of professional combat soldiers declined while the numbers of generals on active duty increased and the contractors got rich.

Hundreds of billions of dollars and years later the retired four stars who launched these flawed programs are wealthy men, but the Army is poor; stuck with huge inventories of broken equipment developed in the 1970s for use in the 1980s and armored trucks designed to chase men with rifles through alleys and valleys.

Churchill insisted Americans eventually do the right thing after they’ve done everything else. It’s time for a new Secretary of Defense to do the right thing. It won’t be easy, but the alternative is to risk a repetition of the bloody and cripplingly expensive debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Retired Colonel Douglas Macgregor is a decorated combat veteran and the author of four books. His newest book is Warrior’s Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting published by Naval Institute Press.

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